I am not having enough sex. Or good enough sex. It is not frequent enough, hard enough, interesting enough. Many parents feel this way. I kinda hate my spouse (at times), and life is boring, at least compared to my friends on Instagram.
Is this all there is? All my years of hard work and responsibility left me here – alone and wandering in a crowd. The kids are loud and life swallows me whole. I look at my partner lying on the couch in sweats and think, How did I get here? Everything about this scene is so unsexy. So not me. Or not how I used to be. And did he fart? Gross. And then I look at myself and realize, Who am I to judge? I am not necessarily exuding hotness in the matching pajamas I bought for the hospital stay when I had my son seven years ago. I blame my partner for changing. And not evolving. Or giving up. Or just being boring. Then the mind wanders to what-ifs: What if I left? What if I slept with the guy at the gym? What if I took off for a few days and never came back? Where is there space for ‘me’ in the modern family? In the modern relationship?
For many parents in today’s culture, the focus is on just getting through the day. Maximizing ticks on the never-ending to-do list. A successful day is measured by how much gets done. Rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise. Parents are stressed, lonely, and unfulfilled. The finger points to the other so quickly. It is almost impossible for people not to blame or criticize their partner for their failings in couple’s therapy.
The thing is, though, eroticism and sexiness starts with you. Eroticism starts with the self and moves out (Morin, 1996).
We often think of eroticism as something shared between two (or more) people. It can be, but eroticism first and foremost starts with yourself. It is aliveness, vitality, and the pursuit of pleasure for just that – nothing else. Animals have sex. It is an instinct. A drive. But eroticism is a life force much greater than sex. Esther Perel said, “Modernity stripped eroticism down to sex, but mystics focused on maintaining aliveness, life source, and energy. It is the cultivation of pleasure for its sake. Not something you do, but a place you go.” A way to live. An approach to life that we lost along the way. A thing modern parenthood stole. Vitality sucked dry by life itself.
The current culture of parenthood leaves parents stripped of vitality and harried at the same time. The boundaries of modernity are confining—suffocating, even. We lose our selves in the name of our children. But the goal is so short-sighted. It is winning a race nobody in fact wants. The tide seems to be changing. But for now, the more we achieve, the more we are locked in. And we are paying our way out of the problem, financially and with our mental health.
The thing is, humans have a secret, often untapped key. We have the unique ability to transform sexuality into eroticism through the imagination. Perel says, “Desire is an expression of our free will. Nobody can force us to want. So, if it is ours, then it is also our responsibility to activate it.” We must learn what does this – what turns our desire on, and what turns it off. Eroticism grows from how we think, our imagination, our authenticity, what we say, and what we do. Stoking eroticism takes attention. And the responsibility is our own.
So, this Valentine’s Day, of course it is important to connect with the ones you love. But to foster eroticism, foster aliveness, foster vitality. Turn the lens around and focus on yourself. Ask yourself, What parts have you shut down or turned off in parenthood? What parts are neglected? Culture often imposes narratives on us based on roles. Important parts of ourselves become marginalized by roles. “If I am ____, I cannot be ___.” Reflect on what parts of yourself you have left behind through having children. Unleash the python in parenting by unleashing the creativity of your imagination.
Creativity is coloring outside the lines. It is aliveness. Invite expansiveness. Often this freedom and play remains in the imagination, and that is okay. But be honest with yourself. Give yourself permission to accept your fantasies. Fantasies are fantasies and often remain in the mind. Notice them. Invite them. Enjoy them – alone or with others. Be open. Say yes, rather than no – and see where you land. You would rather be a princess of a fertile land than a queen of a desert. Happy Valentine’s Day—to you.